Do Fringe Groups Benefit Society?

I penned this reflection a few months back as part of a requisite for one of my graduate classes.  However, I think the comments are relevant to (pertinent for)  a wider audience.  Keeping to my promise to strive for "authenticity," I did not redact it for content, though I did edit it for grammar, sentence structure, etc.  With that said, I have decided to alter some parts of this entry to protect the privacy of the individual mentioned in the text --Anthony

Ms. A is obviously passionate in her critiques of *** companies, especially as it regards their relationships with ***, universities, and other components of the *** industry.  I feel that many of her hypotheses, especially regarding *** control over the dissemination of *** information, are fairly accurate.  Nonetheless, Ms. A’s perspective, in my opinion, is quite provincial; she does not (or will not) recognize the many benefits that accrue to Americans from these relationships.  I have no doubt that some of her solutions to these problems would be worse than the current status-quo.  

Regardless of the merits of her beliefs, Ms. A has an unquestioned right to express them and to solicit funds to further her causes.  Ms. A is one of tens of thousands (or perhaps hundreds of thousands) of Americans, on both the right and the left, who actively espouse radical positions.  These individuals, and the organizations they run, have been a fixture in the U.S. for centuries.  Most experts would likely contend that they benefit discourse on key subjects by forcing Americans to countenance a more cosmopolitan view of these issues, be it pharmacy-doctor interactions or some other topic, than they would otherwise do.  Further, extremists have been successful in bringing attention to otherwise overlooked societal problems.  For instance, would the U.S. have banned DDT if environmentalists, such as Rachel Carson, had not brought the issue to the fore?  

However, I question whether the benefits that accrue from these fringe/radical groups outweigh the negatives in today’s socio-political environment.  For one thing, the damage that these individuals do when they manage to push their ideas, unadulterated, onto Americans has to be weighed against the good that they do.  As a somewhat dated example, radical evangelicals in some localities in the South, from the 1830s to the early 1900s, were successful in passing (state/local) ordinances against Catholics, Jews, and other religious groups.   More importantly, society only benefits from hosting radical elements when its leadership is composed of moderates who are adept at creating and implementing legislation, which incorporates good ideas from numerous stakeholders on both sides of the aisle.  I think (or so I have been told) that the Nixon and Ford era Congresses fit this model.  Today, state and federal legislatures seem to contain few moderates; the legislation that is passed is often a poorly concocted amalgamation that is heavily skewed by radical views (from one side or the other).  In this environment, radical groups from Green Peace to the Tea Party are doing a better job at precluding real dialogue on issues than they are at facilitating richer, more vibrant discussions among Americans.

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